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What Would Energy Sustainability Look Like

The word sustainability is used by many people today. Many companies and individuals are promoting a ‘green’ future and even governments are now tackling the energy equation, from production through to consumption. Some are even developing new policies based on sustainable strategies.

This past week the German Ministry of Environment, for example, indicated that it could achieve a 43% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, the date set by the Europeans as having special significance. Living in Berlin, Germany, I see the change in energy action all around me. It is in the agricultural fields as greater numbers of wind turbines are spinning around, it is atop the houses with growing numbers of buildings adorned in blue shiny panels.

A trip to a German building and home show is perhaps the single most evident place to find the move to energy efficiency and sustainability in action. Almost everything within the show has an energy angle, pointing out the energy saved, heating gained or lower cost of electrical consumption. The building materials are rated, the construction methods altered to meet energy requirements, and the techniques for construction improved, often made more light-weight and durable.

In simple terms, energy sustainability means that production and consumption match – net zero gain. Yet, we all know that a growing population around the globe is consuming energy at a rapid rate, and not likely to reduce this pattern any time soon. The struggle to meet sustainability either means changing energy types, thereby pursuing those that are more capable of producing more energy per unit than others, or working on the consumption part of the equation and reducing global energy use.

When I consider all that I see around me in terms of a country, which happens to be a leader in terms of the net zero energy pursuit, it really causes me to wonder. The initiatives and their magnitude are large. The country already has some 13,000 turbines spinning in the wind. They seem to be common when traveling now. In some areas, solar panels are on so many roofs that it is near impossible not to see them.

What’s going on here? Germany has half the sun of San Diego, yet 40,000 people work in the German solar industry, which is growing as research continues. A new ‘Hybrid’ power plant north of Berlin recently opened, it combines energy sources into one integrated energy supply – a reflection of the future in its own right.

At the same time, nuclear energy is making a comeback of sorts, evident to the north in Scandinavia mostly, but more often talked about in Germany as well.

The changes are happening. I see them, they are everywhere. Not only are they happening, but they are being measured. The ‘Renewable BootPrint’ as I’ll call it, is the measurement of environmental indicators under the influence of sustainable energy policies involving renewable sources that provides a wealth of maps, data and otherwise important indication of the real changes happening. See them here.

I realised a while back that my mind is way beyond the climate change debate. The obvious is obvious to me. The pursuit of sustainable energy, en force, is a veritable gold mine of activity in research, education, sales, scientific study and exports. By simply pursuing it, with a vengeance, climate change will be significantly mitigated, significantly – although I am not sure about net zero given population growth.

Energy Sustainability is looking more like something that runs through the entire economy. Something that is dynamic and connects different people and objects locally, but whose relationship changes instantly at times, and slower at others. It seems like it is more readily measured now than before, and monitoring it will get easier, not harder – if we clue into it and make the effort, assigning the resources and focusing on the job of doing.

The part that is not yet understood as well, is how people will behave while living in a society where objects around them ‘think’ with energy mindsets.